‘All through these moves and job changes, Chautauqua was the constant’

Warren Hickman made himself comfortable in a favorite armchair and eased his legs onto a matching footstool. We were sitting in his cozy apartment, Hickman’s son busy setting up the place for the season and assembling a sleek-looking gizmo to assist his dad as he moves around the grounds this summer. The two men would soon do several weeks’ worth of grocery shopping at Wegmans, and then Hickman’s son would prepare for his own return to New York City.

On the coffee table in front of us sat two thick, new Amazon-published paperback volumes Warren recently finished writing: War and Crises, 1914–1948: The Road to Free Trade, volumes 1 and 2. 

Warren Hickman is 92 years old. He has been coming to Chautauqua since 1926. Including a break for service overseas in World War II, that’s 85 years. After trying Sarasota for a couple of years, he has resumed spending the winters in Trumansburg, N.Y. He talked recently with the Daily about his life.

Coming to Chautauqua

I was 5 years old; that would be 1926. Automobiles were just getting beyond the crank. My father loved music. [John Philip] Sousa’s band was playing here [in Chautauqua]. He put my grandparents and my sister and my mother and me into the car and drove the 55 miles over primitive roads in a primitive car. The crowds were three and four deep around the Amphitheater, and my dad put me on his shoulders so I could watch Sousa. “Watch this,” my dad said, and then the percussionist pulled out a blank pistol and shot three times in the air, to represent artillery or something. I went to first grade that year — we didn’t have kindergarten then — and all I could talk about was the man with the pistol.

We began coming up more regularly in 1931, the 55 miles from Eden, N.Y., south of Buffalo, an area of such wonderful soil for vegetables and fruits that Cornell University’s agricultural school sent their grad students there on field trips. I grew up on a farm and you learn to do so many things by yourself there. My dad, though he had never gone to high school, invented the first torsion rods for [stabilizing and cushioning the ride in] automobiles and other things for vehicles. He wound up with around 200 patents. That started in 1927, and by ’31 we were able to come here.

My father and mother attended more than 1,000 lectures. Now in many cases in those days the speakers lectured for five days, instead of a different person each day. That permitted real in-depth investigation of a subject. I know from personal experience that when you present an academic paper, you assume the audience knows the subject. Now, the audience gets a different perspective each day but maybe not so much depth. I see advantages in each way.

I don’t go to lectures in my own field, international relations and diplomacy. I will make an exception this year because I am supposed to speak to the Men’s Club on Friday morning [Aug. 9] before the last day of the [Week Seven] examination of diplomacy, to make sure I don’t repeat anything. But if the week’s subject is something I know nothing about, I go, because I want to get introduced to new knowledge.

My parents, as well as my sister and I, growing up, owe much that we learned to Chautauqua. We had a man living in an apartment above us, Dr. Edgar Fisher, who spoke once on international relations; I was about 15 or 16 at the time. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone to a lecture normally but because he was speaking, I did, and that got me interested in international relations.

Hickman attended Colgate University and majored in international relations. A “stepped-up” academic calendar meant Saturday classes, shorter breaks and three semesters squeezed into one year. In April 1943, Hickman learned he could graduate early. 

The War and Academia 

It’s hard to explain this now, but something called patriotism was very important, and I wanted to get into the army like all my friends did, so I told the registrar I’d graduate now and all the academic officers in their robes gathered in the president’s office and seven of us graduated. Ten days later I went into the induction center at Fort Niagara.

Hickman found himself in the field artillery in Fort Bragg, then off to Wales. Asked by a colonel if he wanted to stay the rest of the war in Wales to teach heavy weapons, Hickman responded that he had enlisted to be in combat.

Eventually they sent me to a little camp, with only about 30 Americans and some British wounded from North Africa. We did a little marching and mostly sat around. We didn’t know it at the time, but the FBI was vetting us, back home, and after the war I found out they had spoken to my professors, local police chief, high school principal, all that kind of stuff. They sent me to COSAF, the Chief of Staff, Allied Forces, because they didn’t yet have a supreme allied commander.

I was to work in the filing section — I have a photographic memory — where I was supposed to read or scan everything that came in or out. That way, whichever general wanted something, I would be able to know what they wanted without searching through the files. They had 14 file cabinets, four drawers in each, active at any one time.

After a bit, I handed in a request to the executive officer for a transfer to the 82nd Airborne Division. I knew what their combat operations plans were. After two or three weeks, I got a whole sheaf of papers, signed off by the G-1, G-2, G-3 [major command elements] and it seemed there was no place for someone of my rank [staff sergeant]. I went back to the executive officer and he said to me that I could not be sent into any situation where I could be captured and interrogated because of what I knew from my job. We were moved around some, mostly in London, to Norfolk House and other places. Got bombed out of one office. A year later, by this time we were in Versailles, they asked me about how a division profile from the Normandy invasion could apply to potential operations forward toward Germany. I knew where to find it. The executive officer came up to me and said, “Now do you understand why you couldn’t be captured?” Later on, by now we were in Reims, one day the exec came in and said I shouldn’t wear my Eisenhower jacket the next day. I found out why the following morning. General Eisenhower himself came in and pinned a bronze star on each of us. So I guess my work was worthwhile.

Then the war was over. I got an M.A. in international relations at Columbia University, then received a doctorate in Geneva, Switzerland, studying with colleagues who had served in the League of Nations organization and others who were involved with the U.N. I learned so much. But Chautauqua remained a constant. I met my beloved wife Jane outside the College Club one night, and asked her if she would like to go to the movies with me. I don’t think either one of us ever dated anyone else after that. We have two wonderful children, who worked on the grounds when they were growing up. We never missed a Chautauqua season.

After earning his Ph.D., Hickman became an assistant professor at Ohio Northern University and soon after was named provost. Five years later he would be named dean of the college of arts and sciences at Ithaca College. He’d move on to Eisenhower College in Seneca Falls, N.Y., which later merged into the Rochester Institute of Technology. 

All through these moves and job changes, Chautauqua was the constant. At RIT, I would leave the office Thursday afternoon and drive to the Institution and stay over until early Monday morning.

Part of Chautauqua

I suppose I have been pretty active at Chautauqua over the years. I served two terms on the board of trustees. I think I have spoken at the Amphitheater 17 times, numerous other times at the Hall of Philosophy and Smith Wilkes Hall. I have been a Sunday morning usher for 29 years. I gave up skiing at 75 at my son’s insistence, gave up golf four or five years ago, but I still keep up with the lawn bowling on the grounds. You can’t let yourself get old.